How Leadership Turning Points Can Change Your Direction

Fork In The Road

Make the Most of Leadership Moments

Turning points. Leadership moments. Whatever you call them, all of us have experiences that change us.

Bernie Swain has had a backstage pass into the lives of numerous public figures ranging from US presidents to business leaders to sports legends. As the founder of Washington Speakers Bureau, he has interacted with, listened to, and learned from many celebrities and leaders.

 

“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” –Richard Bach

 

His new book, What Made Me Who I Am, takes us behind the scenes of these incredible lives to ask them about their turning points.

As we listen to their stories, what can we learn about our own lives?

What lessons of our own potential can be gleaned from these experiences?

 

Control Your Destiny

You open your book discussing turning points, those moments in life when everything changes. Your book is about these moments. Tell me about that moment in your life.

Funny thing about the turning points, they can be obscure and go unnoticed if we don’t pay attention. That happened to me. It is the lesson I learned.

Bernie SwainAs a graduate student, I’d worked as assistant director of a local community swimming pool. It was a good job, and the summer income was important to pay for graduate school. About once a week, usually a Friday or Saturday, we would keep the staff after closing and have a few beers. It wasn’t exactly allowed, but the director of the pool, who I had known since I was twelve, saw it as a morale booster and looked the other way. One night we decided to invite more friends than usual. About an hour into the party, a member of the board who lived nearby noticed the overhead pool lights and called the pool director. When he arrived, he closed down the party. I was fired the next day and replaced by the daughter of the board member, who had arrived home from college the day before.

Although I routinely dismissed the incident and had my share of laughs about it over the years, my wife Paula understood I was troubled by it. She knew I’d never really be happy unless my success or failure was in my own hands. “You will never be truly happy or confident in your future if you can’t make your own decisions and control your own destiny,” she told me.

That was all it took to undo a 15-year career on the verge of being a success; the power of passion.

 

“Follow your dreams. They know the way.” –Yohi Yamada

 

Imagine your life if you had lived your childhood dream and become a baseball player. What wisdom would that Bernie Swain be sharing? Do you think your life would have been as fulfilling?

I was happy with my career in athletics. Would I have loved being a baseball player? Yes, of course. But then what? Maybe I would have transferred my passion to doing something else, but maybe not. Life has a way of taking us to many forks in the road. Our lives are full of influences and defining moments, turning points. A mentor in high school put me on my career path, and one seemingly unimportant event at a summer swimming pool changed everything. All things considered, I found a passion that made me wake up every morning excited about a new day. And nothing is more important than that.

 

“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney

 

Combine Passion with Honesty

Your incredible business had humble beginnings. Go back to that closet for a moment. Why was it that your agency took off and endured when so many competitors disappeared? What can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

Agencies like ours, even Hollywood agencies, don’t stay on top for long. In the lecture business, it is about 10 years. Why did we become No. 1 and remain there for the last 27 years? Honesty and trust! Whether it was because we mistakenly agreed to a handshake deal with our first speaker and then with all speakers, or we had a built-in desire to do things the right way, we were honest, hardworking and trustworthy. The lesson for other entrepreneurs? Find your passion and always do what, in your heart, you know is the right thing to do. Passion and honesty, it is a great combination.

 

Learn a Powerful Lesson from Robert Reich

You’ve interacted with some of the most successful people in the world for over 25 years—presidents, sports heroes, actors and authors, on and on. The book is full of their stories, a peek behind the curtain. Off the top of your head, is there one story that you consider a ‘must-read’? Why?What Made Me Who I Am

There are a number that I love, but probably the story of Robert Reich. 4”11” tall, he was bullied through his school years. Uninterested in current events and politics entering college, he devoted a life to equality and justice for others to honor the life of another boy who protected him and who was killed during the civil rights movement in the south.

“When I was a vulnerable child, Mickey protected me from harm. I, in turn, feel a responsibility to protect others. I was honored to know him, and I hope, in some small way, that my life’s work honors his idealism, his courage, and his sacrifice.”

It is an amazing story of a life dramatically changed.

 

Use Failures to Win

Failing is a turning point for many. When I talk about failure, who comes to mind? What did you take away from that?

In my book, I write this about Lou Holtz: “I’m not special, and I’m not particularly smart. I haven’t found any magical formula for success. But what I do know is, adversity is part of life, no matter who you are, what your age, and what you do. You will never outgrow or outlive it, but you can be motivated by it. As I have learned along the way, you have two choices in life: you either stay down or pick yourself up. In life and football, you can’t count on anyone else picking you up. Georgia or Michigan State isn’t going to call and say, ‘Coach, you don’t have a quarterback, let me send you one.’

Rarely can you find a truer statement. Almost every day in our first year could be described as a failure. We could have given up at any point. If you can find your true passion in life, and that takes some soul searching, you develop a never-give-up attitude. I never thought once about quitting. But that will not be true for entrepreneurs who lack real passion.

 

“Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” –Michael Eisner

 

5 Common Traits of Successful People

12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact

Small acts of leadership

 

What’s different about the most remarkable leaders?

How can I have a bigger impact?

 

How Small Acts Can Equal Big Impact

Author and serial entrepreneur G. Shawn Hunter is the founder of Mindscaling. His latest book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact, argues that it’s the simple things, when done extraordinarily well, that make a great leader.

Shawn and I talked about his book and how it’s not always the most extraordinary, sweeping actions that make the biggest impact.

 


“The greatest leaders cheer us on when we try something new.” -Shawn Hunter

 

I love this philosophy because all of us can make just a few adjustments and improve our leadership today.

 

Do One Thing At A Time

G. Shawn HunterYou advocate that small, incremental choices can lead to a big impact. In your research for this book, what one small choice have you noticed in the most successful leaders?

I would say the one thing that successful people do is that they do one thing at a time. That might sound small and trifling, but, honestly, the way successful people get things done, or have meaningful conversations, is to do only that one thing. They turn off their phone when talking to people. They turn off email. They schedule time for writing and reading. They block off time for exercise and reflection. It sounds small, but it adds up.

 

Successful people do one thing at a time.

 

Is it possible to teach self-confidence? What are some ways to increase it?

The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence. Nothing makes you feel confident like being prepared. There is also a type of self-questioning that can be quite helpful. Instead of repeating the mantra, “Yes, I can do this!” to build self-confidence, try asking yourself if you have the capabilities to achieve what you are envisioning. If you ask specific questions of yourself, you will be forced to answer to your weaknesses and reconcile them.

 


“The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence.” -Shawn Hunter

 

Build Your Resilience

You talk about building resilience through challenge. Do challenges make the leader, or does the leader seek out challenges?

From what I understand through studying flow states, it’s a self-reinforcing paradigm, but only if you get the challenge part right. As your readers may know, flow states occur when the level of challenge presented meets (or slightly exceeds) your skill level. In that state we can become hyper-aware and hyper-focused. We also accelerate our learning. Once we feel that state, we often seek out those experiences which create flow states. There are people who can actually get addicted to inducing this type of state. They’re called Type T people, also known as adrenaline junkies.

 


Pronoia: believing the world is conspiring for your success.

 

Develop Persistent Curiosity

Persistence. I love the story of your daughter and how she ended up with a rare poster of Taylor Swift. What are some ways to develop persistent curiosity in everything we do?SmallActs-front (1)

Good question! The great physicist Richard Feynman once described how you can spot a real expert versus a phony. Look for three little words, “I don’t know.” The phony will have all the answers, while the experts will be willing to admit what they don’t know. Real experts are relentlessly curious, even assertively curious – that is, they will demand explanations for things that many others simply accept as rules.

Here’s an interesting fact about people who describe themselves as curious. These people are also assertive. Curious people are decision-makers. They are influencers. They often say they have direct influence over the outcome of decisions and change. If you think of the people in your company and community who consistently drive change, I bet you will be thinking of inquisitive people – people willing to ask the hard questions.

 


“Creating confidence is the result of applied effort and work.” -Shawn Hunter

 

Take a Break (even if you’re busy!)

You advocate the counterintuitive advice of taking breaks when we’re busy. Why is taking a break so important? How do you get a type-A, driven leader to follow this practice?

All-nighters don’t scale. Period. In some corners of business, we have created a work environment in which it’s cool to brag about how many hours we work, and how little sleep we get, and how many deliverables we accomplish. I worked in a company once that mandated a rapid response time to every incoming message. When you create an environment which requires people to constantly monitor correspondence over email and text, the next thing they do is constantly initiate messages.

Studies demonstrate what we already know intuitively. That is, our intellectual and productivity capacity diminishes rapidly when we are sleep deprived and when we are distracted. To answer your question, organizations and leaders should reward people who deliver meaningful, thoughtful contributions, not who puts out the highest volume of email noise.

12 Intentional Behaviors for Big Impact

1: Believe in yourself.

2: Build confidence.

3: Introduce challenge.

4: Express gratitude.

5: Fuel curiosity.

6: Grant autonomy.

7: Strive for authenticity.

8: Be fully present.

9: Inspire others.

10. Clarify roles.

11. Defy convention.

12. Take a break.

Defy Convention

Of the 12 critical competencies, is there one that more leaders struggle with than others?

How to Transform Promises into Results

The Agenda Mover

Be An Agenda Mover

It’s not enough to have an idea.

Ideas without action, without execution, without forward-momentum don’t matter. To make a difference, you need to have the skills to turn an idea into reality.

Leaders are people who turn ideas into something tangible, turning promises into results.

 

“If you cannot move your agenda, you’re not a leader.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

It’s a skill that anyone can learn. And Samuel B. Bacharach, the author of The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, is an expert in execution. He is also co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group, which focuses on training leaders in the skills of the Agenda Mover, and is the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Sam about his newest book and turning ideas into reality.

 

Develop the Qualities of an Agenda Mover

Having a great idea is not enough. You teach a process for taking an idea into actionable reality. Before we go into your process, what leadership qualities are essential to being an effective agenda mover?

First and foremost, Agenda Movers keep their egos in check. They are aware that – no matter how good they think their idea is—there may be other perspectives out there. They understand that confidence is one thing, but they know ego can lead to delusion.

Second, Agenda Movers are deeply empathetic. I use that word in a very specific way, meaning that Agenda Movers are capable of standing in the shoes of other people and are capable of seeing the world from varied perspectives. They can see their agenda not only from their perspective but also from the perspective of others.

Third, Agenda Movers tactically focus. They are mindful of small details and tactics. They understand that charisma, bombastic ideas, and grand promises work only up to a point and that what is really needed to get things done are micro-behavioral skills.

Lastly, Agenda Movers understand that they can’t do it alone. To get anything done they need to have others in their corner. They understand the importance of coalitions, and they are able to adopt a coalition mindset.

If you look at the great Agenda Movers out there—these are the characteristics they all share.

 

“Agenda Movers understand what it takes to move things forward.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

Anticipate Motivations

The first step of your strategic blueprint is to anticipate others’ agendas and know where they’re coming from. I recall one person just totally missing it, oblivious to what seemed to be obvious signs. How do you help aspiring leaders to be more situationally aware of others and their motivations?

I think this is the number one mistake leaders make: They don’t spend enough time focusing on where others are coming from.

I remember years ago a student of mind was asking for advice on defending her dissertation in front of five faculty members I knew. The main advice I gave her was to stop focusing on her dissertation and instead to focus on the dissertations and research that the members of the committee had done. Simply put, I told her, “You know where you’re coming from. Make sure you know where they are coming from.”

Good Agenda Movers do their homework and I mean that literally. They dedicate time to figuring out there others stand, how they think, and what they want. They don’t presume they are born with situational awareness—they develop it and work on it.

Too often we look for shortcuts in trying to figure out the agendas of others. We think that if we understand their background or their personality, we can generalize their motivation and intention. This belief is both lazy and wrong. For most people, whether in organizations or in politics, motivation is determined by the specific agenda, not simply by personality.

An individual may be a staunch traditionalist on one issue and a complete revolutionary on another issue. Leaders who make quick summations about the agendas of others and don’t do their homework are bound to make mistakes.

 

“Leadership is about building a coalition that can turn an innovative idea into reality.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

How to Deal With Resistance

Gaining traction and initial support is crucial. If you’re met with resistance, what do you do?

First of all, resistance should never come as a surprise to anyone. All leaders, all organizational actors, will face resistance—it’s just a question of when and how much.

In our political and organizational systems, resistance is part and parcel of the checks and balances that improve what we’re trying to accomplish.

So for starters, don’t let resistance throw you for a loop. Don’t let it shock you. Don’t let it root you to the ground. Instead, you should expect it and have a plan to deal with it.

I argue in my book that there are only a handful of ways people can resist an idea. To the surprise of my students, this really isn’t a daunting challenge. There are a limited number of ways resistance can argue against any idea and leaders can easily defend against these arguments with a little preparation. Once you’re able to categorize the arguments of resistance, you will be able to apply your counter arguments of justification.

 

Leadership Tip: Know where you want to go and whose support you need to get there.

 

Know the 3 Types of Resistors

What’s the best way to deal with resistors?

The first thing you need to understand is what type of resistance you’re facing.

In my book I look at three main types of resistors in an organizational context: active resistors, passive resistors, and internal resistors.

While I always support leaders building a wide swath of support, they might have the hardest time convincing active resistors to join their coalition. At some point, an Agenda Mover should move on and not waste his or her time.

Good Agenda Movers focus on talking with passive resistors. They are those actors who aren’t actively undermining your efforts, but certainly are not helping them, either. Since they are on the fence, so to speak, a leader can be clever and find ways to incorporate them into his or her coalition by presenting potential benefits to them.

Lastly, there are internal resistors—those who sneak into a coalition in a Trojan Horse. Agenda Movers can prevent them from showing up by monitoring their coalition and making sure they don’t let team traction and momentum slip after an initial surge.

 

“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” -Martin Luther King

 

How to Sustain Momentum

Once you get going, you need to sustain the momentum. How do you use small victories effectively? Why do some ideas die in this stage?

Some leaders are great at mobilizing political support for their agenda. They’re great at convincing people of the need for innovation and change. They’re great at getting others to join them. But they drop the ball once they mobilize support. It’s sort of like the politician who gets elected but doesn’t deliver.The Agenda Mover Book Jacket

These leaders stop doing their homework. They stop thinking about the team. They lose their focus and start looking toward the horizon for another big project or a big career move. As a result, they leave it to their coalition to work out the day-to-day details of implementing a new idea.

Agenda Movers can’t relax once they start building some traction. If anything, they need to work harder to drive momentum by not only celebrating small victories but also by providing the right resources and maintaining optimism. They have to supplement the prudent political competence they have used to gain support with a managerial capacity to make sure that things keep on moving. Like I said, it is one thing to gain support and it is another to deliver.

 

“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard

 

Is there one step in the agenda moving process where most leaders fail? 

Why Leaders Must Develop An Outward Mindset

The Outward Mindset

Develop the Outward Mindset

Your mindset is the key to your success, your happiness, and your ability to perform at exceptional levels. Your mindset is how you look at yourself and the world around you. An internal mindset is one blind to others, what they need, and how to create collective results.

Jim Ferrell, co-founder and Managing Partner of The Arbinger Institute is the author/co-author of multiple bestselling books, including Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace. His latest book, co-authored with Mitchell Warner, is The Outward Mindset.

 

It’s as eye opening and important as his earlier work.

I recently spoke with Jim about his research on perspective and personal effectiveness. The ideas in this new book can improve performance, spark collaboration, and accelerate innovation.

 

“The secret to teamwork is an outward mindset.” –Steve Young

 

How to Change Lives and Transform Organizations

Would you introduce the concept of “The Outward Mindset”?

With an outward mindset, we see others as people like ourselves, whose goals, objectives, needs, and challenges matter to us. With an inward mindset, on the other hand, we see others as objects whose primary value to us depends on the extent to which we think they can help us with our own goals and objectives.

Our new book, The Outward Mindset, is about the key differences between these two mindsets and how to move to an outward mindset. The real-life stories in the book illustrate the dramatic difference in influence and results that individuals, teams, and organizations see as they shift to more of an outward-mindset orientation. The book details both how to personally make this shift and how to help others—individuals and whole organizations—to make it.

 

“Too many leaders assume that the role of leadership is to control.” –Jim Ferrell

 

Shift to the Outward Mindset

You share some powerful stories of shifting to an outward mindset. Are there “typical” difficulties and struggles in making this shift, especially if you found someone who was way off the scale on the inward side?

The biggest challenge is people linking their own mindset change to a change in others. When people have an inward mindset, they characteristically blame their struggles—and even their own mindsets—on others. They believe that they have to have an inward mindset in order to defend themselves against all the people around them who have an inward mindset. We demonstrate in the book how this belief is mistaken. We show that the most important move—both in organizations and in life generally— is for people to shift to an outward-mindset approach even when others around them persist in inwardness. This is a very powerful move, and the willingness to do it is one of the most important elements of transformational leadership.

As for someone being way off the scale on the inward side, most people are a mix of the two mindsets. Someone who is tyrannically inward in one part of their life, for example, may be quite different in other contexts. This means that people often are much closer to a change to an outward mindset than many people around them may believe.

 

“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it.” –GK Chesterton

 

The Incredible Results of an Outward Mindset

What results do you see after the shift has occurred?

Wow, it’s hard to know where to begin. At its most basic level, a change to an outward mindset transforms the health and vitality of relationships. It’s easy to see why this would be the case. When we are connected to others in an others-inclusive way—where we see others as people who matter like we ourselves matter—we tend to do much better with others (and they with us!) than when we are self-focused and see others as objects or tools to be used for our own purposes.

As a result of this transformational effect on relationships, one of the interesting things we often find in our work with organizations is that even the non-work relationships of the people we work with dramatically improve. I can’t tell you the number of times people have told us that our work has saved their marriages or healed the rifts in their relationships with their parents, siblings, or children.

For the same basic reason, a shift to an outward mindset in the workplace dramatically improves the abilities of teams, departments, and whole organizations to work productively together. These improvements show up in organizational climate, engagement surveys, customer satisfaction scores, and in the bottom line results of organizations.

Jim Ferrell

How does the outward mindset manifest itself in individual and team goals?

Although people generally aren’t aware of this, most organizational systems, incentives, and goals are inherently inward in nature. They invite people to focus on themselves and their own activities and levels of performance rather on the impact of their activities on others.

As a result, the move to an outward mindset often dramatically changes the objectives and metrics that people and organizations pursue and utilize. You can imagine, for example, how a person’s view of his own job responsibilities would change if he knew that he was responsible not only for certain outputs but also for the impact of those outputs (and the way he went about delivering them) on others.

When individuals and organizations get serious about moving to more of an outward-mindset approach, they start paying attention to and measuring their impact, not just their activities or outputs.

 

“All action results from thought, so it is thoughts that matter.” -Sai Baba

Winners Give Just A Little Bit More

Olympics

Expend Just A Little More Effort

The Olympics offers us innumerable lessons on leadership and winning.

Watching some of my favorite competitions, I am once again reminded of the razor-thin margins that separate the top from the bottom.

 

“A winner is just a loser who tried one more time.” –George Augustus Moore

 

In many events, the difference between the treasured gold medal and not placing at all is nearly undetectable. A first-place finish often can be measured only by going out into the hundredth of a second. Many of us remember watching Michael Phelps win his 7th Gold medal by a finger tip. Without the power of technology, and slow motion replays, it can be questionable who won an event.

 

“You become a champion by fighting one more round.” –James Corbett

 

That fraction of a second reminds me of how winners often give just a little bit more:

  • The bodybuilder who performs just 1 more rep every practice
  • The swimmer who practices by pushing just 1 more lap
  • The sales person who wins makes just 1 more call
  • The football player who spends just 1 extra minute at practice
  • The leader who writes just 1 more thank-you note
  • The friend who pens 1 note of encouragement
  • The writer who writes 1 more page
  • The student who reads just 1 more chapter
  • The runner who pushes 1 more mile
  • The coach who coaxes her team to 1 more victory

 

Disciplined activity is what moves us into the direction of success.

 

“The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” –Thomas Edison

 

+1 Your Day Today

Consistently giving +1 to our goals is often what creates the winning edge.